The poorest fifth of Americans have a life expectancy 13 (!) years lower than the richest fifth, and that’s an average. As the author of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America tells us, it’s a lot worse in Appalachia, where the opioid crisis started, arguably, and is still raging. She starts by telling us about the pushy (and well paid) pharmaceutical reps, unfettered by government regulators, the prescription-happy physicians, some well intentioned and others definitely not, the drug dealers loitering outside Narcotics Anonymous meetings –and the grinding poverty that leads to crime, hunger, and addiction.
The book doesn’t present a lot of hopeful solutions, although it shows that appropriate regulations (sometimes as simple as maintaining a registry of prescriptions), holding awareness programs in school, providing easy access to substitution therapy, and making Narcan widely accessible all help. But it seems that the real answer is to lift entire regions out of poverty, and that’s no easy feat.
Cecil Younger, the hero of Baby’s First Felony, has a problem. He has a suitcase full of cash that belongs to one of his clients (and whose origin is, to say the least. tainted), and more important, his rebellious teenage daughter is missing and is being held by a drug trafficker who wants him to forget about him in exchange for his daughter’s life. Fortunately his felon clients all turn up to help him catch the fiend, with much collateral damage including a blown-up apartment building and a few deaths. The whole story is written, hilariously, as a trial testimonial. It’s dark and funny and perfect.
I won’t deny that I was eager to find out the outcome of Bearskin, that its setting, in a mysterious ecological preserve, was captivating, or that the hero, an ex-felon, ex-drug runner scientist, was intriguingly different from other heroes of thrillers. But I found the level of violence hard to take, the repeated, detailed descriptions of various tortures unnecessarily voyeuristic, and the unlikely conjunctions of criminal elements difficult to believe. So the story seemed mostly artificial and the torture scenes tediously punitive.
It’s a good thing that I knew as I read The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir that the author lived to write his memoir, because bullets fly, overdoses happen, and many young men, dealers and addicts both, die over the course of the story, many ending their days bleeding in the arms of the author. The level of violence in East Baltimore is famous, by now, but this story vividly illustrates why young men don’t think they will make it to 20, which may explain some of the risks they take. The author never tries to prescribe solutions for the children who grow up in an environment where drug dealers are the ones with money and power, even if they don’t last long — but the problems are terrifying.
Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget is a tough memoir of a functioning alcoholic and her long quest towards sobriety. It’s rather amazing that it takes the author so long to realize that there is something very wrong with not remembering entire sequences of one’s life, but she speaks frankly and even endearingly about her struggles. (And the end is a happy one!)
Named after a very fine quality of cocaine, ZeroZeroZero features El Chapo (in the book, safely imprisoned; now at large after escaping using a large tunnel and on a motorcycle!), dozens of corpses and awful mutilations of rivals and law enforcement officers of all kinds, droves of corrupt officials, a gorgeous DEA agent and many gorgeous and doomed girlfriends of drug traffickers, revelations of ingenious secret language used by traffickers, marble blocks stuffed with cocaine, and a highly entertaining list of cocaine brands, complete with logos. And yet, it’s a remarkably soporific read, strangely jumping from journalistic to encyclopedic, to epic style from one chapter to the next — and punctuated by dull drug traffickers’ captures, usually followed by less dull escapes.
The story does contain many interesting tales, especially about the business of drug trafficking. It could be hoped that the traffickers apply their considerable skills in managing demand creation, distribution, and especially financial intrigue (it’s so hard to launder billions!) to legit businesses. They would make a killing. Wait, wrong word!